A beloved, Columbus-based, old and old-fashioned burger operation picks up where it left off decades ago
With all due respect to the late Thomas Wolfe, maybe you can't go home again, but you can go back to Ritzy's.
Often serving to bustling crowds since opening in September, Ritzy's in Clintonville is the second coming of the beloved old fast-food chain that specialized in 1950s-style burgers, fries and homemade ice creams. Originally called G.D. Ritzy's — “G.D.” came from the name of founder Graydon D. Webb, who'd previously been a Wendy's executive — the Columbus-based operation claimed about 100 shops at its peak. Likely due to an overly rapid expansion, though, the company faded to just a few stores about a decade after launching its first restaurant in 1980. The last local G.D. Ritzy's closed in 1991.
The newest Ritzy's certainly looks the part. Its endearing white exterior practically screams “old-fashioned burger joint!” Any other screaming will undoubtedly emanate from excited patrons waiting in the line that sometimes extends outside the 42-seater's doors. (Weather permitting, 20 additional diners can be accommodated outside.)
Simplicity and nostalgia inform Ritzy's not-so-ritzy interior. The space is bright and spare; basically a gray-and-white fast-food place with a checked floor, utilitarian tables, plenty of windows and a “Happy Days” soundtrack. Most decorations — primarily framed G.D. Ritzy's memorabilia and old posters, one from decades ago boasting that its chocolate ice cream had been deemed “#1 in America” by People magazine — are positioned along the wall where diners line up to order at the counter. There, on a black felt letter board (remember those?), you'll also find Ritzy's little menu.
The first double cheeseburger I tried ($6.99; child-sized single burgers are $4.49) was just what I'd been hoping for: a good and fresh, toasted, house-baked puffy bun encasing thin and juicy, griddle-smashed, diner-style patties with edges so crisp they crackled between my teeth. The second one I ripped into, on a later visit, tasted almost as good, but the patties weren't as crisp.
In addition to the usual suspects, the slew of toppings available as you move down the cafeteria-style line includes green peppers, jalapenos, relish and a mild, mayo-restrained slaw. These can also grace hot dogs which, back in the G.D. Ritzy's days, were said to “pop” when you'd bite them.
I didn't get a pronounced “pop” from my Ritzy's frankfurter — it was more like a gentle “snap” — but I did get plenty of flavor. Arriving in good, split-top buns, the nicely seared, deep-red wieners ($3.49) are alluringly garlicky and salty, and taste even better when garnished with mustard, onions, cheese (50 cents) and the meaty house chili (50 cents), which is a bean-less, somewhat timidly seasoned Cincinnati-style chili. The chili — which was watery on one occasion, perfectly fine on another — is also available in a hefty “three-way” entree with beans, cheese and the expected semi-limp spaghetti ($5.99); it benefits greatly from a flavor boost supplied by hot sauce and pickled jalapenos.
The crisp, freshly cut shoestring fries ($2 for a large basket) benefit from quick hands that can jam them into your mouth as fast as possible. Speaking of jam — the strawberry kind — it joins sliced strawberries, crushed toasted peanuts and peanut butter on thickly sliced white bread for a grown-up version of the classic kiddie sandwich ($3.99).
Don't leave without enjoying Ritzy's excellent ice cream, whether in a superior vanilla milkshake ($5.99) or by the scoop (the first costs $3.79, additional scoops are $2). Every smooth and creamy flavor I sampled, which included that duly touted dark-and-rich chocolate, addictive British buttered toffee with chunks of toffee candy in it, plus the fruit-laden “all natural strawberry,” was truly an old fashioned-style delight.